Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why I'm Glad I'll Be Retiring Soon (More About Money)

I'm one of the few people around who likes Mondays.

Since I'm self-employed, I choose when I'm going to work, and therefore Monday isn't necessarily the start of a workweek for me. I've been known to plow through a weekend, just so I'll be finished by Monday. Or I could start a job on a Tuesday. So there's no reason for me to dread Mondays.

I've been represented by two literary agencies in my career. The first took care of me from my 4th book through my 73rd; the second for the three books that followed (the ones that are currently earning me money).

The first agency always mails its checks out on Fridays. While this doesn't mean every Monday I'll find a check in my mailbox (I wish), it does mean should they send me a check, whether I'm expecting one or not, it'll show up on a Monday. And thus, I am very sentimentally attached to Mondays (and to my mailboxes).

I get very little money from books 4-73. What money I do earn pretty much comes from three titles, Kid Power, The Year Without Michael, and Courage, Dana. Last year, out of curiosity and an intense desire to predict my future, I added up how much Monday money I've gotten over the past few years. It turns out to range between $3,000 to $5,000. Not enough money to live off of (obviously), but a pleasant little supplement. One of the benefits of being a self-employed freelance children's book writer, as opposed to many other self-employed careers I could have stumbled into. My hope (and it can only be a hope) is that Life As We Knew It, the dead and the gone, and This World We Live In will each chip in a thousand bucks or so per year for many years to come. I'll never be able to count on it (as opposed to Social Security, which I'm choosing to believe will last my lifetime), but whatever comes comes and I'm sure I'll find a way to spend it.

Google, as you know, takes great pleasure in telling me what's going on with my career, and over the past couple of weeks, it's led me to places where LAWKI can be downloaded for free. Someone, somewhere, has taken the time to illegally upload it, and then cheerfully informs people who might be interested, that it's available for them. It's possible Google itself has done this; there's some kind of writer/Google copyright conflict that I'm supposed to understand, but no matter how hard I try, I can't figure it out.

For the most part my attitude about all this copyright violation is that it's gin joint, as in the line from Casablanca about all the gin joints in the world. I figure LAWKI isn't the only book being so offered, and that with all those other gin joints around, the damage to my income from the illegal downloads will be minimal. To me, this is the advantage of not being a super duper best selling author. People are much more likely to look for and find the super duper best selling authors' gin joints than mine.

But I really don't know how writers starting out now and writers who are just on the verge of starting out are going to survive this kind of theft in years to come. I'll be living off the money I've saved and Social Security, and the thousand here and the thousand there, until those thousands stop drifting in. But those other writers, those new kid writers, are going to be starting off in a world where their royalties could be seriously affected by this unthinking thievery. The people who are stealing my works may well just be kids; they don't understand that what they're doing is as morally wrong as stealing my wallet. And in days, weeks, years to come, there'll be more and more of those kids, and more and more grownups, who will post other people's books because they want to share what they've read, or share what they're thinking about reading, or share for the pure joy of making new friends. I'm willing to believe there's no malice involved, just ignorance.

I should be fine, although annoyed, the way you feel when you're bitten by a couple of fleas.
But all the new writers are going to have their incomes leached away from them, and I really don't know how they, and the whole publishing industry, will handle it.

I wish them luck. Because it's not going to be easy.


todd said...

Good one, Sue. I think you may have a future as the Suze Orman of kids book writers ;-)

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Todd-

I have a feeling Suze Orman makes a lot more off her backlist than I make off of mine!

Anonymous said...

Your post was really an eye-opener to me. I thought it was only music or videos that were being pirated and I have never bought one or allowed my children to do so. It is thievery pure and simple. The only thing I guess we can all hope for is that the pleasure of reading a bound book will never be replaced by reading one on a computer.


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Glen-

In my case, it seems to be small potatoes, but I do think this kind of piracy is going to expand to the point where it might strangle book publishing.

I don't have a problem with out of print books (my own included) ending up on the internet. Sometimes there's no other way to find the book.

But it's a shame if the books that are current end up that way. The people who are uploading them would most likely never steal a copy from a bookstore, but that's really exactly what they're doing.

Dawn said...


This is so sad. It's so bizzare to me as a librarian to think that people would rather pirate any entertainment (be it literature, music cd, or dvd) then check it out form their library!

It is theft clear and simply when people steal an artist personal copywritten property.

So sad...


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Good Sunday Morning Dawn-

I don't think this kind of piracy will have much of a negative impact on me, simply because of my age and my career winding down.

But the ten people who thoughtlessly download a pirated version of a book will be the 10,000 people who do the same thing in the not so distant future. And that's going to hurt a lot of writers who'll be in their prime then.

There's probably a solution somewhere. I hope it's worked out very soon.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Susan, what will happen to this website after TW is published? Will you still make entries?
- Jill

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Jill-

What a sensible question.

My guess is if I'm still enjoying writing this blog after TW is published, I'll keep writing it.

That's pretty much my attitude about retirement. If I come up with an idea I like and want to write, I'll write it.

Then it'll be up to the publishing industry to decide if they want to publish it.

With this blog, though, I have total control. Which is something I tend to enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard of Cory Doctorow? He's an author who puts all of his books online for free, and he has some very good reasons for doing so. You might want to read the introduction to his book "Little Brother" online.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonymous-

Different writers certainly have different viewpoints about things, but as a general rule, we all want what's best for our careers (short and long term).

I've tried to be fairly generous with sections of This World We Live In in the thirdmoonbook blog, but I can't imagine allowing the whole world to read it online. It's not the right move for my career (short and long term).

C. K. Kelly Martin said...

I totally agree with you and I don't know how new writers will survive it either. I'm also willing to believe there's no malice involved but you don't need malice to kill an industry.

I wonder what will happen to the stories. Will anyone be able to afford to be a writer anymore? It's terrible to imagine what we'll be losing out on as a culture if writers won't be able to make even the most meagre living in the future.